If you are reading this, then you probably suspect what the answer may be. Sadly, your suspicions would seem to be correct - it would seem that yes, the relatively new "super-fast" hand dryers can indeed negatively impact your hearing.
A recent study has suggested that the new models of hand dryers can have a fairly severe effect - they can have the same impact on your hearing as a pneumatic drill at close range would.
How Have They Passed Safety Testing?
It would seem as though they have successfully got through the typical barrage of safety tests simply via inaccuracies in the testing conditions - the product testing labs are significantly larger than your typical public toilet, and as such the final results were almost irrelevant.
Various researchers from Goldsmiths, University of London carried out this study, testing the acoustics in a lab of a "box shape" typical of public toilets. The results of this new study carried some startling findings: the noise levels recorded were eleven times as high as the ones reported by the product testing labs!
The head of the Goldsmiths sound practice research unit, Dr John Levack Drever, claimed that the difference in results was down to the "ultra-absorbent" acoustic lab environments, and how greatly they affect the noise in comparison to the real-life outcome in a public toilet. This latter environment would see the noise being "vastly amplified" due to the "highly reverberant and reflective" surroundings.
What Can Be Done to Correct This?
Dr Levack seems to think that the answer is simple: ditch the laboratories. To get a more realistic approach - one that is applicable to a real world scenario - they need to conduct their tests in a more realistic environment.
Levack states that users need to come together with engineers and sound artists in order to "tune the products accordingly", so that they make less noise in the typical hand dryer locations.
What Is So Bad About Loud Noises?
Apart from the obvious things like deafness (we'll get to those in a moment), the noise levels given out by these hand dryers cause some other negative effects.
Some of these effects are less apparent because they affect minorities instead of the population as a whole. For example, elderly sufferers of dementia and Alzheimer's disease can suffer from discomfort and confusion caused by the noise, whilst people who are blind or have impaired vision can experience greater difficulty in navigation. Because the noise can reach such overwhelmingly loud levels, users of hearing aids are sometimes forced to turn off their devices whilst using a public toilet.
And of course, prolonged exposure to loud noises can lead to a degradation in the ability to hear.
The Causes of Hearing Loss
All sorts of things can lead to a diminishing of a person's aural faculties. The major factor is, of course, loud noise. Almost ten million UK people suffer from hearing loss, and noise is the biggest single contributor.
Whether you work in a noisy environment - such as a building site or on the runway - or you frequently listen to loud music, prolonged exposure to loud noises of any kind can result in a loss of hearing. If you want to make sure that your aural organs are in good shape, you should get an audiologist to check them out; you can book an online hearing test or approach your GP.
Deafness via noise exposure is almost completely avoidable, so take the proper precautions and protect your ears! If you work with loud noises, your employer has a legal obligation to protect your hearing under the Noise at Work laws. When sound exceeds 80 decibels, you have to get protection, whether from ear muffs or other methods.
Members of the armed forces are also at a great risk - weapons can reach an ear-shatteringly loud 140 dB! The Defence Hearing Working Group has been set up to offer situation-appropriate alternatives to traditional hearing protection.
Loud music is a stealthy cause of hearing damage: you likely won't notice the harm you're doing until it's too late. If you use ear phones to listen to music, listening at a volume of 89 dB or above should be kept to a maximum of five hours a week. One good rule of thumb is the "60:60" - if you're listening at 60% of your mp3 player's maximum volume, do so for no more than 60 minutes a day.
Some drugs can also cause damage to your hearing, though this is usually temporary. They are known as ototoxic drugs, and the negative effect should wear off not long after you stop taking the medication.
Repeated ear infections are another factor, and unexpected things such as grinding your teeth (or bruxism) can also do harm.
The Effects of Hearing Loss
The effects of hearing loss are legion, and they are varied. A recent study has linked people who are hard of hearing with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and other effects can include a feeling of isolation, depression, decreased enjoyment in social activities and a lack of awareness. The latter problem can be particularly serious in potentially dangerous situations, such as crossing the road.
Of course, the worst thing about losing your hearing is the obvious one - you can no longer hear. No one wants to go deaf. Try and limit your usage of super-fast hand dryers if you can.